Saturday, June 12, 2010

Day 163

Dear Mr. President,

Several Januaries ago, I was living in Washington DC, and I'd just begun training as a barista in my bookstore's cafe. Sometime during the week-long training process, the dress code's exclusion of pinstripe pants, the same actions and combinations of ingredients repeated drink after drink after drink, even the words we were taught to say started to bother me. I sat outside the store on my lunch break, ignoring the light snow, and cried with despair. I was 21, and convinced that, because I was not in school for the first time in my life, I was doomed to amount to nothing, that my life was broken beyond repair. My boss sat outside with me and asked me what it was in life that I wanted. He told me (perhaps in an attempt to boost my self-esteem and perhaps because he meant it) that I was too smart to be serving coffee, that I wasn't allowed to give up on my potential yet.

I'm 24 now, and I still serve coffee. I'm going back to school this fall, and, while I'm terrified that I'm no longer smart enough or somehow too old to be back in a University, I would not be doing it if it weren't for this belief that I have the potential to be more. That serving coffee is not my destiny. I want to be useful to people, to Do Good and to matter in ways I can't really articulate but I know can never be realized if I don't finish my education. I'm afraid that this is arrogant, that I might do a lot worse than to serve coffee and that I should not imagine myself to be better than any job, no matter how awful the hours or silly the dress code or mindless the work. I'm afraid that I will only disappoint myself if I try for more. Maybe my destiny is just as ordinary as I am now, and I should make the most of it.

I could not do this without the legislation you've passed to make higher education more accessible to people like me, and for that I cannot tell you how grateful I am. I think that the importance of education cannot be overstated, and I am so glad that my government recognizes this. You can't give me the answers, you can't give me direction or purpose or self satisfaction, but you can and have given me the assurance of knowing that the education I need to escape is possible, even for some one of my limited economic means.

I look back on the person I was, years ago, and I see that I have grown up enough to believe in second chances; that I am not so young as to think that 24 is too old to start over. I'm still plagued by the same fears and the same arrogance and the same self-doubt, but at least I have enough hope to try and improve my situation. I have had too much help from too many teachers and mentors and friends along the way to ever imagine I am doing this alone, and I know that it is their faith, more than anything, which has given me the audacity to try again. I hope that, when I am much older and, hopefully, wiser, I can look back at this summer and my restlessness and see that it was all for the best, that my growing out of my situation in life will lead to greater happiness for me and greater usefulness to our society. I dare to imagine that is exactly what you had in mind.

Respectfully yours,


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